What do you get if you throw a bunch of monsters together in a house? A house full of monsters! If those monsters happen to be the most famous monsters of all time, you get a couple of real funhouses. So grab a scorecard and hold on tight, it’s time for a tour!
(Warning: spoilers ahead!)
Following 1943’s FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, Universal Studios decided to double down their monster ante for the next film in the series. HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN opens with mad genius Dr. Neimann lecturing about brain transplantation to his prison cellmate, a hunchback named Daniel. Boris Karloff plays Neimann, in the first Frankenstein film in which he does not play the monster he originated.
As Neimann demonstrates brain switching with 3rd grade-level blackboard art, some reliable lightning hits the prison, allowing the two criminals to escape. They quickly hijack a traveling horror show caravan, assume the identities of the owners they murder, and proceed to the charming town of Riegelberg. You see, Neimann has “unloving memories” of those who betrayed and sent him to the penitentiary years before.
Luckily for the crazy scientist, one of the museum’s exhibits happens to be the staked skeleton of Count Dracula (John Carradine). Neimann promises to protect the vampire’s comfy coffin, if Drac will put the big bat bite on the town’s Burgermeister. Unfortunately, the Count takes a fancy to the old fellow’s daughter Rita, and starts laying the Transylvania trance on her.
Once finished with the Burger murder, Dracula attempts to steal Rita away as his bride, and the chase is on. When Neimann sees Dracula being pursued by the police, he has Daniel toss the coffin out the back door. Up comes the morning sun, and Dracula is sent right back to the skeletal state he was in earlier that evening.
Neimann and Daniel then move onward to the village of Frankenstein, where Daniel immediately falls for flirty gypsy Ilonka (the adorable Elena Verdugo). Trouble for him is that they also come upon the still-living Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange) and Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.). Neimann promises to cure the ever-suffering werewolf, and he promises to build Daniel a new body, with considerably less hunch.
But the plans go south when Ilonka falls hard for Talbot and Neimann decides to play the old brain shell game with all of the involved players. The moon rises and we’re treated to a climax that involves werewolf bites, silver bullets, broken backs, a heave-ho through the laboratory window, the requisite torch-bearing villagers and a convenient puddle of quicksand.
Released in 1944, HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN is completely bananas in the logic department, but it’s hard not to love watching the monsters weave in and out of its episodic 71 minutes. Director Erle C. Kenton was never much of an actor’s director, which makes the expository dialogue a bit tough on the cast (and there’s a lot of it). However, he knew how to set a stage, and this film is loaded with wonderful set pieces. Add to that a rousing Hans J. Salter score and the wonderful Jack Pierce monster makeups, and this HOUSE is worth the visit.
With the success of this monster mash-up, Kenton was immediately brought back to do it one more time. HOUSE OF DRACULA was released the very next year, with the same Frankenstein Monster, Dracula and Wolf Man, but with a replacement hunchback and mad scientist.
Count Dracula arrives at the seaside home of Dr. Edelman (Onslow Stevens), who has a great rep for treating the unusual. Drac claims to have grown weary of his bloodsucking ways, and seeks a cure. About the same time, Lawrence Talbot also shows up, sporting a mustache (?) and also seeking freedom from his cursed lycanthropy.
Assisted by one beautiful nurse and one beautiful hunchbacked nurse, Edelman accepts the challenge from both vampire and werewolf. He prescribes blood transfusions for Dracula, and delicate skull-reform surgery for Talbot. All is looking good until Dracula’s real intentions are revealed. The Count pulls a fast one of the good doctor, tainting his blood and turning him into a Jekyll/Hyde fashioned murderer. Oh yes, and the Frankenstein Monster shows up, too.
Compared to its predecessor, HOUSE OF DRACULA is pretty tame stuff. The Wolf Man doesn’t kill anyone, which grants him a happy ending. Dracula’s story is longer, but not as dynamic, and a good deal of dialogue is pinched from the earlier film. Still, the Wolf Man’s transformation in a jail cell and Edelman’s murderous coach ride are worthwhile highlights. So for a couple of hours of classic monster enjoyment, I recommend paying a visit to the houses of Frankenstein and Dracula.